It had been raining all day in Kirkwall, the kind of downpour that turned the city's crooked staircases into waterfalls and made the descent from Hightown to the city's less opulent neighbourhoods particularly treacherous. The smell of rain, especially cold rain on sooty streets, and the way it left the Estates soft and hazy through the window panes, blurring grey mansion into grey sky, had always made Marian Hawke a little nostalgic for Ferelden. Days like these were rare in Kirkwall and she intended to take full advantage of the excuse to laze around in her most comfortable robe and keep all the hearths blazing.

She'd just curled up in a winged chair by the fireside and had started sorting through a heavy pile of correspondence when she heard a firm knock at the door, two taps precisely measured and no more. She was able to guess the identity of her visitor from only this, since few others were so formal or circled around her privacy so carefully. In weather like this, Varric or Isabella would've picked the lock and walked right in, whereas she would have heard Merrill having a long bumbling dialogue with the door, consulting it on whether she should've brought a gift or if it was better to use the knocker or to tap with her knuckles, or if it was the wrong time to call and she should have waited 'til they met for Wicked Grace at the Hanged Man.

Setting aside her letters, Marian rushed for the gilt mirror in the main hall, trying to salvage her appearance as best she could. Taking its cue from the rain, her long dark hair had gone wavy at the ends and she was unsure whether she liked this effect or if it didn't make her look the least bit frazzled. It was too late to change her clothes, but she licked her dry lips to give them the appearance of moisture and tried Mother's old trick of pinching her cheeks to give them some colour, a ploy that she had rebelled against when it had first been suggested as a means of impressing a noble suitor.

"Bodahn, would you please..." She stopped short, remembering that it was his day off, although Maker knew where he and Sandal had gone in this weather.

"Mother?" There was no answer from her mother, who was likely upstairs and would not be pleased to be dragged down from her chambers in order to answer the door. The visitor in question would no doubt sour her mood even more.

Marian would have to greet the caller herself and by Andraste's grace, if she didn't hurry up about it, he'd have gone on his way already or been half-drowned in the downpour. Still, she felt some misgivings as she rushed to the vestibule and unfastened the numerous locks on the weighty door that guarded the manor's main entrance. In an ideal world, her next meeting with the man who'd reached into her chest, torn out her heart and handed it back, still bloody and throbbing (mind you, he'd done all this on a purely symbolic level, although he was unnervingly capable of managing it on a literal one) would involve her looking dazzling and brilliant, surrounded by other men vying for her attention. She had already planned what she would wear for this occasion and the attitude she would assume, which would be one of bemusement and scarcely concealed pity ("Oh, you were too foolish to love me when you had the chance? Well, I shall be very sorry to see you suffer bitter regret..."). Unfortunately, it was rather difficult to assume this attitude when she was not strolling around the Hanged Man in her finest, buoyed up by the silly hangers-on who actually heeded Varric's tall tales. Alone, on this rainy afternoon, in her chilly cave of a house, she could not pretend to be the wise-cracking heroine of her own epic adventure and all her defences seemed weak and childish.

Marian pulled open the door and saw Fenris, as she'd surmised, stooped at the bottom of her porch, his back turned to her. Hearing the door open behind him, he stood and faced her, his expression of abject misery matching the weather so perfectly that she was tempted to laugh, which she knew would have offended his dignity.

Instead, biting her lower lip almost hard enough to draw blood, she mastered herself enough to manage civility. "Hello Fenris. Would you like to come in? I don't imagine you've been enjoying the rain?"

He brushed aside the wet hair dripping into his face and mounted the damp stairs with the cringing, haughty disdain of a drenched cat. "No. Not at all."

Well, aren't you a little beam of sunshine, she thought. Perhaps, dear Fenris, if you didn't have such a marked aversion to boots, you wouldn't have to step barefoot in puddles.

Inside the house, his mood seemed to improve a little, although he seemed acutely aware that his soaked hair was plastered to his forehead and that his feet were leaving wet toe-prints on the hardwood floors. He tried to rub these away with his heels but only succeeded in creating longer smudges.

"I'll get you a blanket," she said, if only to stop his awkward shuffling. "You'll want to dry off."

Marian had no idea how he'd managed to get so wet in the distance between their two houses. Had he decided to go for a swim in the enormous puddle out of front of the Dupuis mansion?

"A gracious offer," he said, "but there is no need."

She walked off to the linen closet anyway, enjoying the chance to be a good host in spite of him. She'd heard of the phrase, "Cruel to be kind," before, but she had never contemplated the possibility of being kind to be cruel. Perhaps it took a personality like Fenris' to bring that out in someone, that cold, unyielding pride of his and an absolute refusal to understand compassion as anything but pity. It occurred to her that she might savour being 'charitable' to him, that indeed, it might be the best vengeance she could ever take, since he seemed so set on this display of stony self-sufficiency.

She handed him a shabby woollen blanket, one she'd often thrown over her makeshift bunk on cold nights in Gamlen's shack. It'd served her well on the ship voyage from Ferelden and when they'd moved into the new house she'd refused to part with it, believing that to throw it away would be akin to betraying a dear friend who'd grown grey and weary.

She observed Fenris' reaction carefully when she gave it to him, watching for a curled lip, a flared nostril, any sign of scorn, but he took it gratefully and without protest, wrapping it around his shoulders. The blanket looked funny draped over his spiked shoulder-plates and she wondered if any of the sharp metal spires might poke through the fabric.

He seemed faintly conscious of this himself and adjusted the blanket to sit a little lower. "I, uh, wish to return a few valuables you'd been kind enough to lend me."

She feigned confusion. "Kind? Lend? You must be mistaking me for someone else. I charge interest."

Fenris answered this with a raspy chuckle that seemed to hail more from nervousness than any appreciation of her wit. Reaching down, he passed her two books that he'd tucked under his arm, perhaps the only items on his person that were still dry. When he put them in her hands, their fingers touched, a reminder of the way he'd stroked them across her breasts, the plane of her stomach, sculpting over her hip and the indent of her waist, just before he'd reached across the bed, seizing her and drawing her back to him...

Marian blinked, breath tightening in her chest, and she saw his lips twitch into the trace of a smile. Had he entertained the same remembrance or did it simply please him to know that he'd affected her, that she wouldn't be able to look at him for a long time without the itch to have his hands upon her or the yearning to be overpowered by that unexpected strength? Perhaps she'd be best to walk out into the rain herself. It might have the effect of a cold shower.

She looked at the books he'd returned to her, relieved to see that neither of them was "A Hundred and One Uses for a Root Tuber", which Isabella had so thoughtfully placed on her shelf at eye-level. In fact, she was surprised to see that one of them was a history of the Amell family, which she certainly had not recommended to him.

"Thank you," she said, pressing the books to her chest. "I'd hardly missed these great distinguish-looking tomes lying around, collecting dust. I hope they weren't too tedious?"

"No. What I managed to get through, anyway."

Fenris dug into the side pocket of his belt and handed her a bag of coin. As he raised his arm, she noticed her favour still tied around his wrist, the red silk scarf that she'd once used to tied back her hair. Had he forgotten it was there? She wasn't about to ask for it back, although she had thought it pretty. It was even prettier, of course, when it was adorning him, but she might've said that about his murderous-looking armour or the blood of their enemies too. He was lucky to have been born with those chiselled good looks, because he had certainly not been blessed with an easy temperament.

"What I owe you," he said, explaining the coin. "For Wicked Grace."

In joining their weekly Wicked Grace sessions at the Hanged Man, Fenris had racked up a considerable debt in losses. He was actually rather good at the part of the game that required stoic wagering (something that Marian could not manage to save her life); however, he seemed incapable of accepting that both Varric and Isabella were inveterate cheaters and would win any significant pot by virtue of extra cards hidden in sleeves, pockets, cleavage or excessive dwarven chest hair. In consequence, he owed Varric five sovereigns and Isabella enough coin to fund her next expedition to the Blooming Rose, debts that he was fool enough to honour and which they brought up at every opportunity, likely thinking he would eventually have to cave in and admit poverty. To disappoint their plans, she'd offered to lend him the money, a debt that she would later conveniently 'forget' and treat as the cheaters' share of the adventuring profits.

Pulling open the drawstrings of the bag, she found the full amount of his debt, most of it scraped together in silver pieces.

"You didn't have to do this," she said. "I wouldn't have sicced the Coterie on you. I'm not Bartrand or those horrid little anklebitters at the Dwarven Merchants' Guild, you know. Although I realize the resemblance is uncanny."

"I would honour my debts. To take responsibility for one's choices – that is a part of freedom, is it not?"

"It is. I just – I'd hoped we might handle this differently..."

He paused, his green eyes narrowing, scanning her face as if searching for clues. Whatever he saw there seemed to leave him baffled. "Have I done something...incorrect? It was not my wish to make you uncomfortable."

She shook her head, unsure whether to sit down and weep or throw her head back and laugh like a madwoman. "Really, must you speak to me like - like that? I realize you don't see any purpose in discussing what happened between us, but is it necessary to be so cold? Do you feel nothing?"

"I feel...a great deal more than nothing. If I seem unduly formal, it is because I had thought it more respectful."

"You know, Fenris, the last time I checked it's possible to show respect without acting like a stone golem."

He glowered at the floor with such intensity a casual observer might've mistaken him for an apprentice mage trying to summon fire. "And what would you wish of me? I'm doing what I can."

"Come into the study. Please. Let's be civilized about this." She opened the door, ushering him towards the hearth. She sat down in the nearest chair and he followed suit, perching on the edge of the one opposite her.

She folded her hands together, watching the fire spark and dance, flickering as a draft of cold air swept down from the chimney. "Must we have this awkwardness between us? I suppose I just don't see why we should waste a perfectly good friendship because of one night. If we behave this way at the Hanged Man, everyone will want to drink themselves silly."

His expression lightened somewhat, his eyebrows rising and giving his gaunt face a somewhat eager and quizzical appearance. Even his ears seemed to perk up, but perhaps that was simply her imagination. "I had not expected that you'd want to see me again. At the Hanged Man or anywhere else. They're your friends, not mine."

She folded her arms across her chest. "Says who?"

"Anders, for one."

Marian was well-aware that the elf and the apostate despised one another, but she'd been hoping that, over time, their mutual loathing would gradually turn into a vitriolic sort of friendship. Thus far, it had not occurred as planned and she had been forced to take solace in the fact that listening to them snipe at one another was often very amusing. "Bah, that was probably his pet demon talking. After all, without you, he wouldn't have a proper outlet for his righteous indignation."

A grin crept to Fenris' lips and she could tell he was enjoying fond memories of heckling Anders. "Suffice it to say, I haven't made myself popular."

"But did you ever want to? When it comes to making friends, you always struck me as the type who was looking for quality rather than quantity. For example, me," she said. "I happen to be a marvellous friend. The sort who draws you into all sorts of lovely danger and intrigue."

"Danger and intrigue. Just what my life's been lacking."

"Oh, but think of all the picnics on the Wounded Coast and bloody slaver massacres you would've missed out on if it weren't for me."

He offered her one of his tight, enigmatic smiles, a gift all the more precious because it was rare and fleeting. "Indeed. You have been a true friend to me, Marian. The best I could hope to possess. I am long accustomed to solitude, but I cannot deny that I would...miss your companionship."

"Of course, you would," she said, smiling, feigning the blissful overconfidence that seemed to come so naturally to Isabella. "And I would miss helping you redecorate the mansion with Danarius' wine. So it's settled then. We shall be friends. And if anyone should inquire into what went on before...well, it's none of their business. It's likely no one even took notice."

"You believe that, do you?"

"And why shouldn't I? Who would be bothered to care?"

Fenris shook his head ruefully. "More people than you think."


"You're an attractive prospect, Marian. You will be sought after."

"I guess that will feel nice. Rejection is a hard lot to bear." As soon as she said the words, she regretted them. They sounded bitterer than she had intended.

He bit the insides of his cheeks, casting his gaze to the fire. "It wasn't like that. know what I am and what I cannot be."

"I'm sorry," she said. "I'll drop it. Let's speak of more pleasant things. Would you like to borrow another book?"

"I should like that. I don't suppose you have a copy of the -"

The door to the study creaked open and her mother, Leandra Hawke, poked her head into the room. When she spied Fenris, her dark eyes hardened and two little lines carved between her brows. "Excuse me, dear. I didn't realize you had company."

Fenris straightened up in his chair as if he were one of Aveline's guardsmen on an inspection day. "Hello. How do you do?"

"I've been better," Leandra said pointedly. "The rain makes my bones ache. What brings you here, Fenris?"

Marian stared at her mother, trying to send her a telepathic request to please not embarrass her. Leandra seemed to enjoy submitting her friends to an interrogation almost every time they visited and she did not hesitate to let them know when she disapproved of them, as she almost invariably did. "He's borrowing a book, Mother."

"Ah, a book. I see," Leandra sounded dubious about this, as if certain that they were actually engaged in lyrium smuggling. Which, indeed, with Fenris around, would have been quite easy to manage. "Has he heard Orana play the lute?"

"I have not," Fenris answered, ignoring the fact that her question wasn't directed to him.

Leandra persisted in speaking about him as if he was not there. "He should speak to her more often. She's a charming girl and they have so much in common. Besides, she plays the lute wonderfully. Marian, shall I ask her to come down and play?"

Marian knew this tactic all too well. She found it transparent and dreadfully embarrassing, although she knew that Mother thought she was being clever in her attempts to transfer Fenris' attentions to someone 'more appropriate'.

"No, thank you," Fenris said. "I am not much inclined to music."

Mother frowned, the lines in her brow deepening. She brushed a strand of mouse-grey hair behind her ear.

"Marian, I just wanted to remind you that we have that event coming up. The one you promised me you'd attend. So if you're making plans, you'll want to be sure to avoid scheduling over it."

Ah yes, the Party. It had been the focus of Leandra's existence for several weeks now and Marian couldn't have forgotten the date if she'd been abducted into the Fade and bludgeoned about the head by a demon of Filial Neglect. "Fear not, Mother. I will be there. With bells on."

"Good. And please don't shut the study door. I dislike it when you become so...private." Mother walked away, leaving the door gaping, a precautionary measure, no doubt. Leandra seemed to be under the impression that the second a door closed, the former elven slave would rip her daughter's clothes off and make passionate love to her on all the estate's antique furniture. Marian only wished her mother's apprehensions were true. Sadly, she really was about to lend Fenris a book – it wasn't a euphemism for something delightful and naughty that she would have to go repent at Chantry.

Fenris hunched back down, leaning his elbows on his knees. His posture was almost always one of wariness and coiled aggression, as if he were readying himself to lunge at an attacker. "Your mother is certainly full of praise for Orana."

"Yes. She's very fond of her."

"And not so fond of me, I imagine."

"I don't think she knows how to act around you."

Marian left it at that. She loved her mother too much to admit aloud that Leandra didn't trust elves unless they were cleaning her floors.

"She referred to some mysterious event you're attending?"

"Oh. That." Marian rolled her eyes to show her opinion of it. "It's a party she's hosting. She wants me around to serve drinks and chat up the neighbours. It's sure to be dull."

"I see." That was probably an understatement. Marian often felt as if Fenris could see right through her attempts at tact or social niceties. It was a talent he seemed to share with the Arishok. Didn't anyone ever tell lies on Seheron? If only just to be pleasant?

"You were about to request a book. Hopefully something more engaging than that dry old family history that Grandfather wrote?"

"Yes. Do you have the Chant of Light?"

"Are you sure you don't want 'Hard in Hightown: Siege Harder'?" She pried the book off the shelf, dandling it before him. "Varric is a master of suspense. Or well... he's a master of something alright."

"Tempting, I'm sure, but I was hoping for something that would renew my faith in this world."

"Ah. As opposed to making you want to gouge people's eyes out and set things on fire? Right. Perhaps Andraste has one up on Varric in that department." She handed him the copy of the Chant that Sebastian had sent along with her reward for exacting vengeance on the mercenaries who'd slaughtered his family. It was a simple version with illuminations and she thought he'd be likely to have an easier time with it than the last books he'd borrowed.

"Would you like to keep meeting for lessons? I was rather pleased at my progress with the Qun."

In exchange for helping Fenris with his reading, Marian had asked him to teach her the Qunari customs and language so that she wouldn't feel like such a hopeless naïf in audiences before the Arishok. This deal had seemed to please him and did much to sate the demands of his pride, which was the primary obstacle to his learning.

Fenris offered her another of his secretive smiles, before replying in Qunari, "Amasit tamassin elriet, Kadan."

The use of the word 'Kadan' flustered Marian for a moment, when she thought of its literal meaning: 'centre of the heart'. Of course, Qunari sometimes used it more lightly, to refer to a brother in arms or a close friend. It wasn't necessary as...intimate as she thought. Or as she'd hoped.

"Sharun. Anaan esaam Qun, Tamassran," she answered, more haltingly but with the accents in the correct places.

Fenris nodded, gratified. "Very good. I think that settles it then. We shall have to continue or your grasp of Qunari will outpace my reading."

He slouched back in his seat, resting his shoulders against the cushions. It was funny to see him feign comfort or ease, since he clearly had little appreciation for luxuries except as injustices to bristle up against, bottles to smash into walls. Whenever he tried to look casual about something, she knew he was trying to get one over on her.

"About this party of yours," he said. "Will anyone I know be in attendance?"

"Aveline. Sebastian. Cullen. And, well, maybe Saemus," Marian admitted. "It's not my party. It's mostly people Mother knows. From Chantry."

"If I were to make an appearance, I imagine I'd look rather conspicuous."

She'd never expected Fenris to angle for an invitation, especially since it wasn't as if he was the only one Mother had purposefully omitted from the guest list. Leandra had also excluded 'the shady dwarf', 'the Dalish girl', 'the angry blonde man' and 'that vulgar pirate wench' and Marian hadn't offered any protest because she'd doubted any of them would care. Well, perhaps Merrill, but she wasn't sure her friend was ready for an evening in Kirkwall society and staid Kirkwall society certainly wasn't ready for her.

"I didn't think you'd want to come," she said. "But if you do, you're certainly invited."

He gave a stiff shrug, his green eyes turning towards the fireside and reflecting its light. "I don't have any other pressing business to attend to. And I must admit, I'm curious. To see how the other half lives."

"You don't honestly think I'm the 'other half'?" She felt a little sensitive on this point. Not all of her old smuggling pals from Lowtown had taken her rising fortunes with the expected good grace.

"No. Not yet."

She gave a low chuckle of disbelief. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Simply that we're very different, you and I. And very soon, I suspect you will have the world laid out before you like a banquet, where you may pick and choose."

She smirked. "And how do you know this? Have you been gazing into your crystal ball?"

"No. But I am covered in lyrium. That should be ominous enough to warrant a reputation for prophesy."

She grinned. Well, look at you, Fenris, she thought. You made a little joke. Perhaps Varric's bad influence was rubbing off on him after all. "You needn't worry, Tamassran. I have no intention of becoming a bore. Or a boor. Or anything else that's unpleasant. I still have enough Fereldan mud on my boots to remember who I am and where I came from."

"I am glad to hear it," he said simply.

He pulled his chair around and they took turns reading from the Chant for a while, stopping occasionally to discuss the meaning of a passage or a particularly obscure bit of phrasing. Although Marian had gone to Chantry even back in Ferelden, she'd never been as devout as she could have been. She'd taken many of the doctrines for granted and often, during boring sermons, she'd passed the time by scanning the Chantry pews for handsome men or indulging in speculations about her neighbours' sins. Working over the material at Fenris' urging had given her a different perspective on the religion. It had more than its share of faults and internal hypocrisies, but she could see that it offered hope and consolation too, assurances that she might have used after Carver's death. Fenris seemed fascinated by it, although he reacted to his favourite passages as he did with almost everything he liked, with a sense of incredulity, as if this too were a mirage in the desert and might dissipate when he tried to grasp it.

They passed the rest of the afternoon reading and talking by the fire, until it seemed that they'd settled back into their old companionship, but with one alteration - a sense of physical tension that pervaded every gesture and seemed to invest their words and glances with underlying meanings as twisted as a nest of serpents. In this new state of the union, inconsequential things gave Marian a secret thrill – the way Fenris angled his head towards her or how his eyes might catch the light, for just a moment. There was that red band too. He'd looked at it as she'd read to him, self-consciously adjusting it and then tightening the knot to secure it higher on his wrist.

When he'd gone home at last, Marian felt herself mystified by the nature of their new friendship, with the sinking realization that she was still as entangled as ever in her feelings for him. There was also the unpleasant matter of having to explain to Mother that she had just invited Fenris to her Very Exclusive Party, the one Leandra was relying on to relive her Amell past and launch the Hawke family into the loftiest circles of Kirkwall society.

Marian found Leandra working on embroidery in her chambers upstairs, stitching an intricate pattern of birds and vines along the edge of a cream-coloured silk pillowcase.

"That's beautiful, Mother," she said, hoping to earn a few points before the eventual revelation. "Have you been working on it long?"

"Only a month. I do wish I'd taught you needlework. It would be so helpful in preparing your trousseau."

"My...trousseau?" This came as a shock to Marian, although she'd known for a long time that her mother wished her to marry. Nevertheless, she'd thought that Leandra would confine herself to wringing her hands and occasionally haranguing her about the risk and instability of her lifestyle, rather than actually engaging in any sort of ghastly preparations. "I appreciate the gesture, but I don't think I will have any need of that."

"You may very shortly, I think." Leandra switched to another colour of thread. "There will be quite a number of eligible young men at the party and you're coming to an age when you need to start considering your options."

"I've considered my options. I believe I'll take the one that doesn't involve becoming a baby machine for some noble twit who will lend me respectability if I let him dip into the family coffers."


"Come, Mother, you didn't take the conventional path with Father. Perhaps I take after you."

"And if I had to go back, perhaps I'd do things differently. I loved your father, but I'll confess that life with an apostate certainly took its toll on all of us," Leandra said. "Constantly fleeing templars, hiding in our own home, seeing the ruin of the Amell name... Chasing forbidden love isn't something that I'd advocate to anyone, not when you might find something real amongst your own kind. Don't go repeating my mistakes. You're my daughter, Marian, and I want better for you."

"Yes, but I want to make my own mistakes." She paused a beat, allowing this to sink in. "Speaking of which, I invited Fenris to your party."

Her mother looked less than overjoyed at this prospect. "Oh, Maker. Really? How will anyone have a good time with him moping around?"

Marian shrugged. "It's easier than it looks. I do it all the time."

"Don't smart-mouth me. I told you I didn't want to be associated with anyone disreputable."

"It could be worse. I could have invited Varric and his six imaginary cousins. By comparison, Fenris isn't reallllly disreputable."

"Just dirty and foul-tempered."

She arched a brow at her mother. "Alright, Fenris is surly, taciturn and morose, but...dirty? He's always seemed perfectly hygienic to me."

"Elves have...unclean habits." Leandra's tone of voice seemed to imply that she was speaking of something more sinister than just a failure to scrub behind their ears. "Back in Ferelden, they were always spreading disease. I trust that you've been to the Alienage here? You've seen how they live."

"Yes and the filthiest alley there is at least as sanitary as Uncle's house. You can't be serious about this."

Her mother's needle winnowed in and out of the fabric, stitches bunching together to form a cluster of purple grapes. "I just hate to see you frittering away the best years of your life on someone so...inappropriate."

"These are the best years of my life? Oh Maker, where's a noose when you need one?" Marian picked up a piece of her mother's thread and tied it into a gallows knot. "Ah, there we are..."

"That is not funny."

"Really? Because I'm amused."

"This isn't a joke." Leandra's frown deepened. "Can you honestly see yourself creating any sort of stable partnership with that wretched elf? What sort of husband would he be? What sort of father?"

"The sort who eats his young, I expect. He might spit them out, too, if they happened to be mages."

Leandra scowled and Marian heaved a sigh, annoyed at having to concede the point. "Very well. He's not...practical. Rather like Orlesian shoes."

Encouraged, Leandra pressed onward. "And would you want to go on a long journey shod in Orlesian shoes? No. You'd want a good respectable pair of boots."

She paused, looking over her selection of spools to find the right colour of thread, until, realizing that the shade she desired was clutched in Marian's hand, she snatched it away, wagging her finger at her daughter's thoughtlessness.

"I've seen the way you look at each other and I won't say that infatuation isn't thrilling," she continued. "I'll admit, that in my more frivolous moments, I've looked at you swanning around and thought I might like to try a draught of whatever you were drinking. But I also know that when the passion fades, you'll be stuck with a churlish, penniless elven slave and it will be a rude awakening."

Marian turned away, pretending to examine the statuette on her mother's nightstand, a mawkish wood carving of two figures embracing. She sneered at it and set down a little harder than she'd planned, so that it fell over with a jarring thud and she had to put it straight, nervous that she might've scraped the polished finish. "In any case, there's no need to wear that woebegone expression. Whatever happened between Fenris and I... well, it's over now."

"Oh, dear. I'm sorry." Leandra softened her voice to approximate sympathy but the reply came a little too fast and underneath the feigned sorrow, Marian could detect a note of triumph. She knew that her mother was already rifling through her mental catalogue of young Kirkwall bachelors.

"You're not sorry. You're as pleased as a cat in the creamery."

"I am sorry that you've been hurt," Leandra elaborated. This was more believable. "But, that elf is dreadful! Why, precisely, is he coming to my party?"

This sudden outrage brought a smile to Marian's lips. Her mother didn't want her involved with Fenris, but she also reserved the right to despise him for having the unmitigated gall to break up with her daughter. The idea that these two stances might be in conflict would never occur to Leandra, who seemed to expect that a former slave would have to be stupid or utterly mad to reject the affections of her beloved first-born.

"We're still friends," Marian said. "You don't have any reason to be angry with him."

"I suppose I shall have to tolerate his presence. However, just because I will not have the elf ejected from the ballroom does not mean I will be pleased to see him." A thought came to her and a mortified look passed over her face. "Oh, heavens, do you think he'll wear that terrible armour?"

"I don't know. Perhaps you should consult his valet."

"His valet?" Leandra's eyes widened.

Marian pressed her lips together to suppress a giggle. "He doesn't have a valet. Although if you'd pretend to think Anders had the job, I'd give you five sovereigns."

Mother was not amused.